Changing weather comes with some very real costs

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Generally mild, this winter has been all over the map of late – spring-like one day, back to cold and snowy the next. It makes fine conversation fodder – hey, we’re Canadians, that’s what we do – but those who warn us of the dangers of climate change have much to say about these episodes.

We’re not to confuse today’s weather with the big picture of climate, but every anomaly adds to the evidence.

If climate models are on target, we can expect more extreme weather days ahead, even putting aside the human contribution to global warming/climate change.

These changes would significantly decrease the duration of the annual snow season and lengthen the growing season. They could increase the frequency and severity of extreme heat events in summer.

If the models hold, we can expect more than just rising temperatures. Greater impacts could include changes in precipitation patterns, in soil moisture, and possibly in the frequency and intensity of severe weather events.

Changes in weather patterns may affect the frequency and intensity of pollution episodes.

More extreme weather events would have consequences for the property insurance industry and possibly for disaster-relief agencies. Changes in human health could affect the health and life insurance and pension industries.

Changes in the hydrologic cycle may result in more variability in water supply for hydroelectric power production.

Additional damage to forest ecosystems by pests and diseases, and increased frequency and intensity of fires may occur.  Species currently threatened with extinction face the greatest risk of extinction in a changing climate.

In these parts, experts anticipate fewer extremely cold days and more extremely hot days and more severe thunderstorms, which can cause injury and property damage.

While things are projected to get worse, there have already been an uptick in weather-related disasters across the country, particularly floods. That comes with a human toll, and a large hit to the wallet.

The dollar impact is chronicled in a new report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which show a 40 per cent increase over the last decade from the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements program. That fund is most often called on following floods given the historic lack of private insurance to cover such disasters.

In the 10-year period from 2005 to 2014, the DFAA reimbursed provinces some $4.1 billion versus $2.9 billion from 1995 to 2004.

Since its founding in the 1970s, the program has seen increasing demands. Inflated to 2014 values, the average DFAA cost from 1970 to 1994 amounted to $54 million per year; between 1995 and 2004, this annual average cost had risen to $291 million, and between 2005 and 2014, it reached $410 million per year. Now the PBO is predicting that to rise dramatically to $902 million annually for the next five years, three-quarters of the claims related to flooding, largely in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Battling greenhouse gases is one thing, but in the near term, wallets will take a beating beyond whatever useful – and decidedly useless tax grabs – measures governments come up with.